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Flying Cars Using Advanced Technology - Resonator

Where The Hell Are The Flying Cars?

Aug 1, 2009
Epcp_0908_01_z+flying_cars+front_left_view Photo 1/4   |   Flying Cars Using Advanced Technology - Resonator

Seriously. Where are they? I remember stealing the neighbors' Popular Mechanics back in 1971 and reading about flying cars. The editors said the technology would be here by the new millennium. It was printed in a magazine so it had to be true. So where are they?

I read that article so many times I had it memorized. I spent countless hours designing my own flying cars, parachutes, gliders, just about anything that could suspend me, even for a short while, above the ground. My poor mother could never figure out what happened to all her bed sheets while Dad was convinced the PVC pipe missing from the garage was a sure sign of oncoming dementia. My bad guys. I did it.

Right now, I'm wishing for a flying car so bad it hurts. I'm on the big track at Willow Springs, stuck behind some uppity punk in a 5 Series. Every time I move to pass, he shuts the door. If I didn't care about the car I was driving, I'd gladly swap paint with this dude. But it's not mine and I can't afford to repair it. Plus its owner would shove me down a hole in the desert, forever.

Now if this car could fly, well, I could simply sail right over Mr. 5 Series. And the ride home would be brilliant. No more stop-and-go crap come Los Angeles, just a straight shot to Fullerton. Sounds great, doesn't it?

Every 10 years or so the flying car resurfaces on the grid. This time it's an outfit called Terrafugia with a vehicle they call the Transition. At first glance, the Transition looks like something that escaped from Disney's Tomorrowland. Or maybe a carnival. Remember those cool "spin and hurl" rides, the pods fixed to giant counter-rotating arms, the pods filled with screaming people? Strap some wings on one of those. That's the Transition

I always wondered what would happen if one of those pods came loose. How far would it fly? If the folks at Terrafugia had anything to do with it, about 450 miles at speeds close to 120 mph. From an engineering standpoint, the Terrafugia people have done an admiral job. Building a genuine flying car is a daunting task. Problems like aerodynamics, weight, strength and handling characteristics are multiplied 20-fold. And then, depending on the targeted market, the vehicle has to be user-friendly, or even better, idiot-proof. In the current state, there's a vast difference between driving a car and piloting an aircraft. A vast difference. The thought of the old lady living across from us flying an aircraft is beyond horrific. She has enough trouble simply backing out of her driveway. A few crushed bikes, a poodle and a dead mailbox should be painted on the side of her Crown Vic as confirmed kills.

There's an old pilot's adage, something akin to "looks good, flies good." Well, I've been looking at the Transition for three weeks now and I'm not convinced it satisfies either. It completed its initial flight testing at New York's Plattsburgh Field, where it took off and flew about half a mile at an altitude of 30 feet. Not quite as inspiring as I had hoped.

Had the MIT-educated design crew been tasked with building an aircraft, they would have succeeded, with something akin to the Evektor Sportstar. Had they built a car, it most likely would have resembled the edgy Tramontana. Both of these vehicles meet and exceed the "looks good, flies good" philosophy. The Spanish-built Tramontana has a top speed of 200 mph and will hit 60 mph in 3.5 seconds. The Czech-built Sportstar has a maximum cruising speed of 170 mph and a range of 800 miles.

It's when we mix these two disciplines together that things get complicated. Nearly 50 years ago, a gentleman named Moulton Taylor built something called the Aerocar. While the project was considered successful-he managed to patent his design-the vehicle never went into mass production. I guess the guys from Terrafugia didn't get that memo.

While I love both cars and aircraft, I'm no longer interested in a vehicle that is both. Call me a purist. Plus, it's my guess that the next design leap in personal aviation will involve vehicles capable of sustained hover. Why use a road at all?Plus, it'll save me from backing over the dog.

Les Bidrawn
Editor
european.car@sorc.com

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